Few players confuse fans to the extent Shawn Marion does. Marion isn’t one of the league’s most exciting players on a visceral level. At least, he isn’t anymore. But Marion’s play is a consistent revelation, full of unique facets and the occasional bizarre jumper. His game is one defined by these impressive oddities: the quick release spin move in the post; the clever, perfectly timed cut to the basket; the long, effective steps in transition; and the unique, somehow acceptably effective jump shot. As Marion has aged, he’s been characterized accurately as a lockdown defender, noted widely for his recent work on LeBron James in the 2011 Finals. But what’s often forgotten about Marion, and has been unnoticed for much of his career, is his incredible ability to produce and remain effective as his game ages.
As the years have passed, Marion has learned to coalesce his skills in a way that transcends the incredible athleticism he used to possess in the mid-2000s golden Suns’ years. Now less able to rely on that athleticism, Marion has turned to the strengths he’s polished over a decade-plus long career instead, relying on what he does so well, and what has confused defenders for so many years. Marion’s play is so often befuddling, so often unrealized by many in its impressiveness, but always surprising, and unrelenting. Marion, unlike many others, is supremely confident in oddity. He capitalizes on his unique attributes; instead of being forced to overcome unorthodox skills, he uses them as a basis for consistent success.
What can one say about the jump shot of Shawn Marion that hasn’t already been said by the agape mouth of a fan? Of all the odd shooting forms in NBA history, none have possessed such a sudden release as that of Marion. It’s more of a flip than a shot, really. But for all of the natural groans upon that flip release, Marion’s shot is almost passable. Though Marion hasn’t been a particularly frequent three-point shooter, he’s somehow managed to make 33.3% of his career 2078 attempts. Given how he shoots, that’s a herculean percentage, a true feat for wrist-flicking everywhere. Marion’s greatest moments as a shooter come when he stands behind the corner three-point line with the defense distant, wary of his post game but more than content to leave him far away from the basket. Though he typically assesses the situation and decides to drive or pass, there are times when a look of mixed determination comes across Marion’s face, revealing a sudden shot is imminent. When the resulting flick finds the basket, defenders shrug their shoulders, and the fans follow suit.
Marion’s jumper is odd and acceptable, but his instantaneous turn-around post move is both effective and wonderful. His body jolts and shifts direction, quickly towards the basket, and no clear gather is obvious. Before the defender can react or assess Marion’s move, the ball is on its way towards the basket. The potency of this jolting turn and release combine with Marion’s slower, more elongated post moves, which rely on Marion’s lengthy strides, to form a diverse game near the basket. These moves aren’t particularly elaborate. They lack the diversity of Kevin McHale’s low post game or the clever elegance of Hakeem Olajuwon’s dominant skills. But what Marion’s post moves lack in variety is compensated for in simplicity and quickness. Marion’s game is nothing if not defined and carefully and instantly calculated, and that’s hardly changed with time.
Marion remains consistent and viable in regards to production. Many players who depend on athleticism fall off increasingly as they pass through their 30’s, but Marion has steadily and efficiently contributed more than 12 points and six rebounds during each of the last three seasons. Marion remains a superb and versatile defender, still capable of troubling some of the best players in the game with quick lateral movement, great effort, and superb timing. These skills allow Marion to defend four positions, depending on the personnel of opposing teams, and render him capable of bothering young point guards. Marion’s athleticism has slightly dipped, but his reactive ability has remained intact. Marion’s not easily able to make up ground on a passing defender, but he remains fully capable of anticipating movement and using his incredible length to stifle an opposing player’s movement. Marion’s anticipatory ability is also found on the offensive end. Few players recognized how to move through passing lanes in the near-perfect fashion he does. Marion often seems to pause as Jason Kidd or any other primary distributor begins their drive towards the basket, waiting for the opportune moment to dive or pass through a miniscule but exploitable seam.
Most non-superstar NBA players are characterized, however fairly or unfairly, by a certain skill or trait. Tony Allen defends, Ryan Anderson shoots, and Kevin Martin scores. But in the case of Shawn Marion, it’s impossible to pinpoint a single definable skill upon which his game relies. Marion possesses so many small, indeterminable skills that his effectiveness can never fully be inhibited. If Marion struggles to score, his versatile defense remains useful in a myriad of situations and matchups. If he can’t find an open lane in the half-court, he’ll rattle off consecutive baskets in transition. Marion no longer dominates games with frequency, but his impact is felt, always emerging from an unpredictable place of odd ability. In this sense, Marion’s unique traits have allowed him to assume the role of an ideal role player late in his career. Because he refuses to settle or rely on a single strength of years past, he’s constantly able to find some area of vulnerability within the other team’s offense or defense, however small. Marion’s game does not come to a halt; it multiplies and spreads like a virus full of basketball success.
Beyond the constant intrigue of his game, it’s important that Marion’s sustained abilities are not forgotten. The NBA has alwasy been full of unique players, but few have found the level of success Marion has. All of his oddities combine to form a player that can just as easily dominate as surprise. Marion’s uniqueness often masks the level of success he’s so often reached, as the golden era of Suns teams fades into forgotten offensive lore. His inexplicable jumper and rapid-fire post moves are worthy of attention, and his defense, effort, and slashing ability are deserving of high praise. Marion’s game builds upon surprise, taking the viewer to a place of both genuine astonishment and impressively amalgamated talent.